RECIPE: I decided that selling my baking would be a good way to raise money for the Arrow Bone Marrow Transplant Foundation, which I’m doing as part of participating in a kayak race. It was time to make something a bit fancy and I still hadn’t quite conquered choux pastry, so thought I’d try éclairs. I was the excited new owner of three patisserie recipe books, two of which focus on components that can be used for creative work.
COMPONENTS: My choux didn’t work first time – the buns didn’t even think about rising in the oven although they still tasted alright. I think my first batch failed because the mixture was too wet and a bit runny. I mixed it by hand and probably didn’t allow enough heat or moisture to escape in the process. I watched a few videos online (this one by Julian Picamil was good) and revised my process to include turning the dough in the mixer to cool it down, and adding the eggs slowly until I was happy with the consistency (I didn’t use all my egg). I used egg wash and a fork to get smoother buns (described in the recipe below). I’d had trouble with air in my dough, so this the egg wash/fork helped burst a few unwanted air pockets. I have an oven that unevenly distributes heat, so I avoided piping éclairs around the edges of my sheet, as you can’t open the oven during the baking process to turn your sheet around. I have had almost as many problems with my choux as I have with curdling crème anglaise, which I find much harder to make than crème pâtissière. In this case it was on the edge of curdling, but I managed to pull it back by pouring it through a sieve, and adding another egg yolk and a little more whole milk. This seemed to work (it wasn’t lumpy and it tasted great). On other occasions it’s gone too far and I’ve had to throw it out. For me it’s always a problem of it getting too hot. I’ve since discovered that it’s a little more controllable if you cook it in a bowl over a pot of boiling water. We’ll see how I go with that method next time. The chocolate soil is the easiest thing in the world to make, but I recommend taste testing it as it bakes because you can’t tell by the colour whether it’s cooked. My one egg white made me about 200 mini-meringues about 10mm wide, so I’m pretty glad I stopped at one! I’ve put the spares away to use later.
ASSEMBLY: Because I was smearing chocolate across the top of the choux buns, I made my piping holes for the filling in the top of the buns. The crémeux was chilled and slightly set, so I stirred it with a whisk to ensure it was smooth before spooning it into a piping bag. The filling piped easily into the buns, but left a slightly bigger hole than I would have liked in the pastry – I need to investigate better piping options, maybe a longer nozzle? Once the filling was in, I spread the chocolate on top of the bun, concealing and closing up the holes. As I was doing 25 éclairs, I had to reheat the chocolate in the microwave for ten seconds on two occasions to soften it again. Chocolate soil was sprinkled over the top, and a mini-meringue was added to finish.
IMPRESSION: I loved my tester, and since they sold out in 20 minutes at work with some people coming back for a second one, I think everyone else liked them too! They had a rustic finish but still looked pretty cute.
Recipe for pâte à choux from Pâtisserie by William & Suzue Curley
Recipe for chocolate crémeux from The Pastry Chef’s Little Black Book by Michael Zebrowski and Michael Mignano
Recipe for chocolate soil from The Elements of Dessert by Francisco Migoya
Pâte à Choux
125ml whole milk
125g unsalted butter, cubed
12g caster sugar
162g plain flour, sifted
250g whole eggs, beaten
125g chocolate (66-72%)
Heat the water, milk, butter and sugar in a saucepan. Bring to the boil. Take the pan off the heat and add the sifted flour and salt. Use a spatula to stir until completely combined. Return the pan to the hob, set to a low heat and stir continuously with a spatula until the dough leaves the sides of the pan. Take off the heat, transfer the dough to a mixing bowl and blend with a paddle attachment for 2-3 minutes until the dough has cooled to a lukewarm temperature. Gradually add the eggs into the dough, being careful to add them slowly towards the end in case you don’t need the whole quantity. Beat until smooth and glossy. The consistency should be neither too soft nor too hard; it should drop off the paddle or a spoon leaving a smooth ‘v’ shape.
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celcius. Spoon the choux pastry into a piping bag fitted with a 15mm piping tip. Pipe the choux pastry into lines on a lined baking sheet. Brush with egg wash and gently run the back of the tines of a fork along the dough. Bake for 18-20 minutes. Turn the oven temperature down to 180 degrees Celsius and continue to cook for another 8-10 minutes. It’s very important that the oven is not opened until the pastry has browned, as opening it will allow steam to escape and the pastry will lose its air. Remove from the oven, poking a hole in each éclair where you intend to insert the filling to allow the steam to escape, and place on a rack to cool.
Melt the chocolate, then stir in the butter until it is melted and combined.
294g whole milk
294g heavy cream
118g granulated sugar
80g egg yolks
1/4 tsp salt
224g chocolate (66-72%, chopped)
Combine the milk, cream and half the sugar in a medium heavy saucepan. Bring it to a simmer and remove from the heat. Whisk the egg yolks with the remaining sugar in a large bowl. Keep whisking the eggs while gradually adding the hot milk mixture. Return to the saucepan and stir over a low heat until the custard thickens and leaves a path on the back of a spoon when a finger is drawn across it. Do not boil – as a guide, don’t allow the mix to go over 82 degrees Celcius. This process should take about five minutes.
Strain the hot crème anglaise over the chopped chocolate. Let stand for one minute, then emulsify until smooth. The thickness of the crème anglaise will affect the viscosity of the crémeux. Cool then chill before using.
20g almond flour
12g all-purpose flour
9g cocoa powder
14g butter, melted and cooled
Preheat a convection oven to 160 degrees Celcius. Mix all the ingredients in a bowl until you obtain a homogenous mix and spread in an even layer onto a sheet pan lined with a nonstick liner. Bake for 15 minutes until aromatic. Spoon a small amount out and cool it down; it should taste like a baked almond cookie. Cool down to room temperature. This amount makes about half a cup. Reserve in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one week, or freeze for up to one month.
Meringue is made from equal parts egg white and sugar. I used one egg white that was 37g. I added a pinch of cream of tartar and beat the egg white with a whisk attachment in the mixer until it had soft peaks, then gradually added the sugar, leaving it to mix for several minutes to allow the sugar to dissolve into the egg white until there were smooth glossy peaks.
With a 5mm piping nozzle, meringue was piped onto a lined sheet and baked in a slow oven until they were a pale caramel colour. Turn off the oven and leave the meringues in there to cool so they maintain their crispness.